Harford's Craig plans 4 percent raise for county employees

Harford County Executive David Craig wants to give almost 2,000 county employees a 4 percent pay raise that would be retroactive to July 1, 2012, their first such pay increase in four years.

The merit-based raise would cost the county $4.4 million and is set to be introduced to the Harford County Council in legislative form at Tuesday night's council session.

"The county executive felt very strongly that county employees who haven't gotten a raise for at least four years deserve a raise for the sacrifices they have made on health care and benefits [and other issues] for the past several years," county spokesman Bob Thomas said Monday.

The raise would go to any employee with an eligible evaluation for the period ending March 31, 2012. In addition to the regular government workforce, employees of the Harford County Sheriff's Office and the Harford County Public Library would also receive the increase.

Not affected are some 5,400 employees of the county school system, Thomas confirmed. The school employees received 1 percent cost of living raises and step or longevity raises on July 1, total increases that averaged 4 percent in many cases.

The county will try to provide the retroactive payment to employees by the end of 2012, according to the legislation.

Any employee who received a pay raise during fiscal year 2013 which was not tied to a promotion to a higher-level classification will not be eligible for the raise, but an employee who received less than 4 percent during fiscal year 2013 will receive the difference between the raise received earlier and the 4 percent merit increase, according to the legislation.

Thomas said Craig believes the county can afford to provide the extra money to employees, even though he did not propose any pay raises when he sent and later signed off on the final budget for the 2013 fiscal year that began July 1.

"He felt strongly that they were deserving and he worked with [budget officials] to make the funding available," Thomas said, adding some employees have already e-mailed Craig to show their gratitude. "County employees have been very appreciative, by and large."

The exact amount the raise is set to cost the county annually is $4,421,515. About $3.5 million of it would come from the general fund, treasurer Kathryn Hewitt said.

Other sources include the highways fund, water and sewer fund, agriculture preservation fund and the special parks and recreation fund.

"Our revenue has started improving over the last few fiscal years," Hewitt said about the justification for the raise.

"We believe it's a time we can do this for employees, and it's important after four years to be able to do a merit increase," she said.

Hewitt said the majority of employees would qualify for the increase. An exact number was not immediately available; however, last November, approximately 1,940 county government, sheriff's and library employees were eligible to receive the one-time $1,250 bonus Craig proposed.

That bonus was eventually reduced to $625 per employee because of concerns over the state's decision to transfer parts of teacher pension costs to the county. It was paid out between December and January and also included school system employees.

The last time county employees received an actual pay increase was in mid-2008 at the start of the 2008-09 fiscal year. Both step raises and cost of living or merit raises have been frozen in place since, except for a handful of employees who received what the county administration says were either promotions or reclassifications of their jobs.

The proposed 4 percent pay increase comes about a month before the county's final audit for the 2011-12 fiscal year is due to be made public.

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